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Hawkins 911 considering billing city police for TBI background checks

June 10th, 2007 12:00 am by Jeff Bobo

ROGERSVILLE - Hawkins County Commissioner Chris Jones will submit a resolution to the full commission this month asking for the county to cover the cost of computer background checks conducted by Hawkins County 911 for the city police departments.

Jones, who is also the Mount Carmel fire chief, said during last Thursday's 911 Board of Directors meeting that because city residents pay county taxes as well, the 911 computer background checks should be covered by the county budget. The fee is 24 cents for each check run on a suspect's background, stolen items, firearms, vehicles and other checks that would go through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation system.

Hawkins County 911 plans to begin charging municipal police departments for the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) checks that are run through the TBI system.

It won't amount to a lot of money from Hawkins County's cities - slightly more than $4,000 total divided between Church Hill ($1,419), Surgoinsville ($365), Bulls Gap ($171), Mount Carmel ($1,150) and Rogersville ($1,017). Although Bulls Gap no longer has a police department, the town has agreed to pay for computer checks done by the sheriff's department within the town limits.

It's been almost exactly a year since Hawkins County 911 went through a financial crisis which required $40,000 in emergency funding from the County Commission to stay afloat.

These TBI background check users fees had been charged to municipal departments through 911 in the past, but 911 Director Gay Murrell said the charges fell by the wayside around 2001.

The Hawkins County Sheriff's Department's portion of the computer check user fees this year is $8,739. In 2001 the county began deducting that fee from the county's annual $140,000 911 contribution, and that's when the 911 Board decided to stop billing the cities for the computer check fee as well.

This year Murrell has asked the County Commission's Budget Committee for the $8,739 fee on top of the $140,000 county contribution, but finalization of the county's 2007-08 fiscal year budget is months away.

Murrell told the 911 Board of Directors Thursday she has begun sending the bills to municipal departments again because with finances as tight as they are she can't overlook any source of revenue.

Murrell told the 911 Board she'd spoken to the police chiefs from Rogersville and Church hill and they have agreed to pay the fee.

But, during Thursday's 911 meeting Mount Carmel Police Chief Jeff Jackson reiterated Jones' objection to placing the fees on the cities. Jackson said that city residents are county taxpayers as well, and deserve to have the service provided to city police and county deputies.

Jackson asked Murrell what would happen if a city didn't pay.

"I would hope that wouldn't happen," Murrell replied.

Murrell said she would never withhold background checks on suspects, but for cities that didn't pay their fee they might have to do their own background checks on stolen items and other checks that wouldn't involve an officer's immediate safety.

It was suggested during the meeting that Murrell approach the Budget Committee requesting the county to cover the total $12,855 in computer check fees for the cities and the sheriff's department. Murrell said she's already made her 2007-08 budget requests to the Budget Committee and isn't enthusiastic about going back.

That's when Jones said he would submit a resolution to the full commission. The 911 Board did not vote on whether to support the resolution.

The full commission meets in regular session June 25.

There was a bit of good news for the 911 Board Thursday. Murrell said that the state funding recently approved for 911 by Gov. Phil Bredesen has been distributed and Hawkins County 911 received $120,000.

But Murrell was quick to note that Bredesen did not intend those funds to replace local 911 contributions.

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